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As Trustee for a Trust do I need an Attorney

A trust is a legal document that will control the distribution of assets to beneficiaries. The purpose of a trust is to ensure that assets go as the trust creator intended. Trusts can avoid the expense and uncertainty of a probate proceeding and proving a will.

As Trustee for a Trust do I need an Attorney


A trust is a legal document that will control the distribution of assets to beneficiaries. The purpose of a trust is to ensure that assets go as the trust creator intended. Trusts can avoid the expense and uncertainty of a probate proceeding and proving a will.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer for a Trust?

A successful trust requires clear terms and specific instructions. The trustee must follow the terms in the Trust, and vague wording can confuse. An experienced trust and estate attorney can create a trust document that accurately expresses the goals of the Trust. Legal assistance will avoid disputes and difficulties when the terms are not transparent or not workable. Trustees can benefit substantially from the advice and assistance of a skilled trust attorney.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Execute a Trust?

Many people interested in protecting their wealth or carefully directing its distribution ask whether the process requires legal representation. In simple terms, do you need a lawyer to execute a trust? The answer for most people is a definite yes; you do need an attorney. 

The reason is simple. Most people do not have experience as trustees and do not know the steps and actions. The role of a trustee involves more than the distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries. A trustee must manage bills, expenses, taxes, and work to carry out the trust instructions.

Trustees with prior experience may have a greater understanding of the demands of the role than newcomers. Some tasks may be technical and time-intensive. The attorney can help by directing trustee efforts to the more critical tasks and ensuring that the process flows as required by law.

When Do I Need a Lawyer for a Trust?

Most trusts begin with the creator as the initial trustee. The need for legal assistance begins when the Trust passes to the substitute trustee. Nearly every new or experienced trustee will benefit from regular trust administration discussions with a seasoned trust attorney

Some trusts carry high risks of beneficiary conflicts, disagreements over financial decisions, and complex transactions. Trusts that involve property located outside of California may require filings and appearances in those states. Such technical situations add urgency to the current need for legal assistance. 

How Long Does a Trustee Have to Distribute Assets?

There is no precise limit on the number of days for the distribution of assets by a trustee. The rules and doctrines that apply to other similar matters can apply. Trustees should anticipate making the distribution when the Trust is ready to move to that phase. Beneficiaries can use legal remedies to cure unreasonable delays, mistakes, and failure to follow the Trust’s terms. 

Many beneficiaries seek faster action by a trustee. While there is no specific distribution deadline in California law, practical rules determine whether the distribution is timely. The law permits many factors when determining how long does a trustee has to distribute assets. Distributions may require more time when the trust assets are complex, involve real property, and subject to disputes or disagreements among the beneficiaries. 

Some delays can be quite reasonable and undertaken to benefit the Trust. For example, some assets require detailed treatment, such as expert valuations, and are subject to market conditions. Trustees may believe it is best to wait or manage a sale in small pieces rather than a single large action. Delays that harm the beneficiaries or losses to the Trust can expose the trustee to legal liability. For example, if the trustee delays without reasonable cause, they may have to answer a legal action by a beneficiary demanding prompt action.

Distribution of Trust Assets to Beneficiaries

The trustee must follow the terms of the Trust and the rules set by California law. The Trust must perform specific administrative tasks before beginning to distribute the assets. The initial tasks include the below-listed items.

 • Filing notice of Administration to all beneficiaries

 • Filing tax returns

 • Preparing an accounting of all trust assets

 • Determining trust expenses

When making distributions, the trustee must follow the terms of the Trust. The trustee may hold the distribution of some part of the assets until they pay all expenses. Distribution issues can occur when there are two or more beneficiaries, and beneficiaries’ interests may conflict.

Getting Legal Help

The first meeting with the Trust and estate attorney can be more productive if you have essential documents and information. When making the first appointment for a consultation, you should ask if the meeting requires any specific documents and information. Since the successor trustee must replace the initial trustee, you should have the trustee appointment document or death certificate. The typical initial conference might also include the below-described papers and information.

 • An estate plan, living will, trust document, or power of attorney

 • Recent bank statements and financial statements

 • Details of any real property

Trustees of a California trust nearly always benefit from legal assistance by an experienced trust attorney. The Administration of a California trust can be technical, challenging, and time-consuming. Legal assistance can relieve burdens and promote a smooth and successful administration.

Trust Dispute Litigation Law Firm

About Hess-Verdon & Associates

Hess-Verdon & Associates is one of the leading California estate planning law firms involved in litigation regarding wills, trusts, and estates. Estate dispute litigation is one of our primary focuses and accounts for much of our work in court, and our track record in litigation is both extensive and impressive. 

Our knowledgeable and aggressive courtroom representation is necessary to ensure family members, executors, trustees, beneficiaries, and others maintain the grantor’s wishes.

Learn more about our trust litigation team. 


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